emergency manager

Politics
1:02 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Emergency manager referendum headed for November ballot, for now

The referendum on the state's emergency manager law is headed to the ballot...for now.

The state Court of Appeals has refused to convene a special panel that could have reversed a precedent that says the referendum campaign met the minimum requirements to qualify for the ballot. That could have prevented the proposal from appearing on the November ballot. 

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Commentary
10:06 am
Mon June 11, 2012

Commentary: Common Sense

Now that I’m in my sixties, I find myself forced to confront the sad truth that I am never going to be a concert violinist or play professional sports. So instead, I have decided to devote my life to urging our leaders to exercise common sense.

True, there are days when it does seem that trying to make the Detroit Lions might hold out slightly more chance of success.  But as an idealistic baby boomer, I refuse to give up.

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Economy
9:57 am
Fri June 8, 2012

AP: Nearly 100 city of Flint layoff notices issued

 FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Flint's state-appointed emergency financial manager says police officers and firefighters are spared from cuts taking place this month ahead of the new budget year.

The Flint Journal reports that 98 layoff notices have been issued to city of Flint employees. The layoffs go into effect throughout the month of June. Emergency manager Michael Brown initially said 32 firefighters and 19 police officers could be laid off.

The city recently was awarded a $6.9 million federal grant for firefighters. And Brown says he hopes a grant to support police operations will follow soon. Brown included information about the layoffs in his updated financial and operating plan.

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Education
7:32 pm
Thu June 7, 2012

Teachers' union, emergency manager at Muskegon Heights schools settle lawsuit

Muskegon Heights High School
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The teachers’ union at Muskegon Heights Public Schools has settled a lawsuit against the district. The union had alleged the district’s emergency manager was engaged in unfair labor practices.

Muskegon Heights schools' emergency manager Don Weatherspoon says allowing a charter school operator to run the public school district is the only way he can afford to keep school open next year. The deficit is more than $12 million. 

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Education
12:46 am
Thu May 31, 2012

No football? No band? Muskegon Heights parents get few details about charter school plan

Don Weatherspoon is the Emergency Manager of Muskegon Heights Public Schools. He's planning on having a charter company operate the public district begining next school year.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon heard from parents, alumni, teachers, and taxpayers during and after the meeting. He reassured parents a free neighborhood school will be open this fall.

But most had questions he couldn’t answer yet. Like, will there be band, art or athletics? Busing and special education services? Although he’d prefer it, Don Weatherspoon says he cannot make any guarantees.

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Education
12:01 pm
Wed May 30, 2012

Too far in the red: Plan calls for Muskegon Heights schools to be run by charter operator

Muskegon Heights High School
Muskegon Heights School Board

Tonight parents with students enrolled at Muskegon Heights Public Schools will get a chance to hear more about the new plan to turn the district's finances around.

The plan is to completely turn over operations to a charter school operator beginning this fall.

Muskegon Heights Public Schools is running a more than $12 million deficit.

The school board asked for a state appointed emergency manager after struggling for more than six years to close the budget gap.

Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon said the only way to do that is to have a charter operator run things so that he can worry about paying off the district's debts.

"I think the most important thing for both students and parents and the community is that they have a neighborhood school system," said Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon said consolidating with neighboring school districts was not an option because of Muskegon Heights' huge deficit. And he said cutting salaries, even by as much as 30 percent, wouldn't have gotten the district into the black.

I'll attend tonight's meeting and will update this story.

Politics
3:45 pm
Mon May 28, 2012

On Memorial Day in Detroit, a "funeral for democracy"

A coffin representing democracy at the Galilee Baptist Church in Detroit.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Some voting rights advocates say Michigan’s emergency manager law represents “the death of democracy” in the state.

So they symbolically laid democracy to rest at mock a funeral service in Detroit Monday.

The “funeral” included music and eulogies of sorts--all delivered from behind an American flag-draped coffin. A real hearse waited outside to take the coffin away.

Some might see this kind of display as a bit much. But organizers insist it’s totally appropriate, given what they see as a relentless assault on voting rights in Michigan.

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Politics
12:57 pm
Mon May 28, 2012

Benton Township alleges Benton Harbor emergency manager defaulted on debt

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris at a town hall meeting last summer.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

When Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris took over the City of Benton Harbor two years ago, the city owed money to a bunch of different agencies; the library, the public schools, and the IRS, for example. Harris has made huge progress in paying off that old debt.

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Education
11:09 am
Fri May 25, 2012

A Michigan school district may be completely replaced by charter schools

Muskegon Heights High School

The Muskegon Heights School District could be completely turned over to charter schools this fall.   That would be a first in the state of Michigan.   

The district’s emergency manager is submitting his plan to replace the entire school district with charter schools with the state Treasury and Education Departments today.  He says that’s the only way to get the district out of its financial crisis.

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Politics
1:15 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Court of Appeals rules Michigan's emergency manager process doesn't violate Open Meetings law

Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled review teams can meet behind closed doors as they decide whether to recommend a state takeover of a city or school district. Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law filed the challenge. They say review teams should have to comply with Michigan’s open meetings law.

The ruling essentially upholds the decision to name an emergency manager to run Flint and the state’s consent agreement with Detroit.

Robert Davis filed one of the lawsuits. He says the court made a mistake.

“The financial review teams are able to exercise extraordinary powers, including issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of local elected officials, and, certainly, since they are discussing financial management of a local unit of government certainly that should be open for every person and every citizen to be privy to,” Davis said.

Davis said he will appeal this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals is still deciding whether to allow a referendum challenging the emergency manager law on the November ballot

Politics
3:26 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

Michigan Court of Appeals hears arguments on EM ballot question

District I offices of the Michigan Court if Appeals in Detroit
Mike Russell wikimedia commons

The question of whether voters should get to weigh in on the state’s emergency manager law now rests with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

A panel of the court heard arguments today both for and against putting the referendum on the November ballot.

A coalition of labor and other activist groups collected more than 220,000 petition signatures to do just that.

But the state Board of Canvassers blocked the question based on a complaint that some of the type on the referendum petitions was in the wrong size.

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Crime
3:05 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

Feds say Highland Park's Davis created fake non-profit for spending sprees

Highland Park School Board member and union activist Robert Davis was indicted last month on charges of theft by federal prosecutors.

They accused Davis of stealing more than $125,000 from the ailing Highland Park school district.

Today, more details emerged from the indictment.

Robert Snell of the Detroit News reports on "newly unsealed federal court records" the paper obtained.

The records allege Davis controlled a bogus nonprofit group, "Citizens United to Save Highland Park Schools." The feds say Davis used the group's bank account for "an $84,000 spending spree at car dealerships, hotels, bars, restaurants and a custom-clothing store."

From The Detroit News:

The financial information was included in an FBI search warrant affidavit requesting permission to raid Davis' home in Highland Park last year.

The affidavit does not specify which car dealerships were patronized. But Davis paid a St. Clair Shores dealership $21,450 for a used silver Mercedes-Benz CLK320 coupe in May 2009, according to the Secretary of State.

That's at the height of the time Davis was stealing money from the school district, according to federal prosecutors.

The sixteen-count indictment says Davis stole the school district's money between 2004 and 2010. If convicted, he faces the possibility of 10 years in prison on each of the counts of the indictment.

Davis made headlines before the indictment was made public by successfully winning a court battle against the state's financial review teams for violating the Open Meetings Act.

Davis has maintained his innocence and his lawyer did not offer a comment on the newly unsealed records, telling the News he had not seen them yet.

Politics
4:26 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

Michigan Court of Appeals hears cases on emergency manager law

The state Court of Appeals heard challenges today to the determinations that Flint and Detroit face financial emergencies.

The challenges say state review teams violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act by not deliberating in public.
    
Attorney Andrew Paterson says the public has a right to know how a review team goes about its job.

"It is determining the financial condition of a local unit of government and it is reporting on that financial condition,” said Paterson.

Attorneys for the state say the review teams are not public bodies under the open meetings law.

The state says the teams only offer advice, and it’s ultimately up to the governor to decide whether cities and school districts are in financial emergencies.
    
Flint is currently being run by an emergency manager and Detroit is operating under the terms of a consent agreement with the state.

Education
4:10 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Pontiac school finances face state scrutiny

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan
Michigan.gov

The state is set to take a preliminary look at the financial situation of Pontiac's public schools, a step that could eventually lead to the appointment of an emergency manager.

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Politics
2:03 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Flint protestors gather to oppose emergency manager

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Protesters gathered in Flint to voice their opposition to the emergency manager in their city.

Since last December, Michael Brown, Flint's emergency manager, has been making decisions normally reserved for city council and the mayor. He's expected to present his budget plan for the city during a public meeting with Flint City Council tonight.

Kristin Longley of the Flint Journal reports the protestors gathered outside Flint City Hall before moving inside.

The group of more than 25 Flint residents and community members braved the rain to protest what they consider "taxation without representation" under the emergency manager in Flint.

Brown adopted a budget plan last week that includes fee increases for Flint residents as well as a possible reduction of 19 police officers and 31 firefighters through layoffs and attrition. Overall, city personnel would be reduced by about 150 positions.

Longley reports lifelong Flint resident Ralph Arellano would be willing to pay more taxes for better public safety in Flint - Arello said the emergency manager system "is undemocratic and undermines voters."

"It's all about public safety. There's not one person who lives in Flint who doesn't have some story about public safety," said Arellano, who said his home has been broken into twice. "The decisions they're making are short-term and they're short-sighted."

Protestors put up garage sale signs with the names of some of Flint's assets (ex. Brennan Park and Hurley Hospital) that could be sold off by Michael Brown should he decide to do so.

It's Just Politics
2:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Size does matter... in emergency manager repeal

Fourteen point font…

That is what is standing in the way, apparently, of you getting to decide whether or not the state’s emergency manager law stays intact. As Rick Pluta, co-host of It's Just Politics, notes the whole emergency manager repeal was stopped in its tracks, "by an attorney with a pica ruler." And it, quite literally means, size does matter... at least when it comes to petition drives in Michigan.

The back-story

The Board of State Canvassers yesterday morning deadlocked along party lines (two Republicans vs. two Democrats) on whether to put a referendum challenging the state's controversial emergency manager law on the ballot. Though Stand Up for Democracy, the group pushing to put a repeal on the ballot, had gathered more than 200,000 valid signatures (40,000 more than what was actually needed), Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition itself as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot.

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Pluta and I take a look at the politics behind the board's decision... and, I should tell you:  it's a little unsettling.

"Hyper-partisan"

"There's this board, the Board of State Canvassers, it's bi-partisan: two Democrats and two Republicans. They get to decide whether or not a petition - in this case, the petition to repeal the state's emergency manager law - gets on the ballot. This board is not non-partisan. In fact, it is hyper-partisan. [These board members] are chosen by their parties to represent their party's interests," Pluta explains. But, it's not just their party's interests that these board members are representing... they're also representing their own paychecks.

Conflict of interest?

"Jeff Timmer, one of the Republicans on the Board of State Canvassers, [who voted against allowing the petition to go on the November ballot] works for The Sterling Corporation, the political consulting firm that was actually behind the challenge to this ballot's font-size," Pluta explains. "The opponents of the referendum, Citizens for  Fiscal Responsibility, is a Sterling client. Sterling and the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility even share a business address."

But, Timmer isn't the only one with a possible conflict of interest. "There's a Democrat on the board, Julie Matuzak, she voted to to approve a different petition - one backed by unions. And her day job with the American Federation of Teachers was to run the signature-gathering for that petition drive. So, she voted to let a petition go forward when it was her job to get [that petition] on the ballot," Pluta explains.

Doomed from the beginning?

On the same day that the emergency manager petition was not approved, three other proposals were given the OK. It begs the question: was this emergency manager petition in trouble from the beginning? Was there anything that Stand Up for Democracy could have done to inoculate themselves?

"Well, actually, they could have gone to the election board before they even started to gather the signatures and make sure that they were in compliance [with the font size] but they decided against this. They said even if they had gotten the OK that it still would have seen legal challenges," Pluta explains.

"And, I have seen this before – this sort of paranoia that keeps people from going to the board first and then they get knee-capped like this after they’ve gone to the trouble and expense of gathering the signatures. Some campaign professionals I know are just smacking their heads over this. The attorney for Stand Up For Democracy says they didn’t want to get bogged down in legal challenges before they even got started. But, you know, two union-led petition drives that are just anathema to Republicans – including the one to preempt a right to work law – were recently approved," says Pluta.

What happens now?

So, here we are: for now, the state’s emergency manager law will not be on the ballot in November. But, the attorney for Stand Up for Democracy says they're going to appeal this decision to the state Court of Appeals. And, what will happen there? "More politics," Pluta explains. "People will be looking to see what appeals court  panel gets the case and whether it's made up of judges with Republican ties or judges with ties to Democrats," Pluta says.

And, wouldn't we all just be shocked - shocked, I say - if this repeal becomes politicized in the courts...

Commentary
11:40 am
Fri April 27, 2012

Commentary: Democracy in peril

Sometimes it seems that everybody in the world is in favor of democracy, just as long as it gives them the result they want.

When that doesn’t happen, well, then they don’t like it so much. We saw two prime examples of this yesterday. The first was a state board of canvassers meeting, where the panel refused to put a repeal of the new emergency manager law on the ballot.

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Politics
5:17 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Michigan election officials deadlocked on challenge to emergency manager law

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines this morning on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

Update 5:17 p.m.

MPRN's Rick Pluta filed audio on the scene at today's Board of State Canvassers meeting. Here's what it sounded like - first the chants of "Shame!" from the crowd after the Board had a deadlocked, which meant the question would not be put to voters in November - and then the response from Herb Sanders, the attorney for the Stand Up for Democracy campaign.

Sanders says the next stop is the Michigan Court of Appeals.

12:27 p.m.

The Detroit News has more on the scene at the Board of State Canvassers meeting this morning:

Democrats Julie Matuzak and James Water voted to approve the petitions while Republicans Jeffrey Timmer and Norman Shinkle voted against it.

More than 140 supporters of repealing Public Act 4 began chanting "Shame, Shame, Shame" and shouting down the board members as "fascists" as they tried to exit the heated meeting.

An attorney arguing for the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the group challenging the validity of the petitions, says the law uses the term "shall" - as in petitions "shall" use certain font and type sizes.

"'Shall,' in legal parlance, is a mandatory term," Pirich said. "It didn't say 'get in the ball park', it said it 'shall.' "We believe the petition is fatally flawed in that regard."

Herb Sanders, the attorney representing Stand Up For Democracy, a coalition of groups that launched the petition campaign, noted several Court of Appeals petition cases where the court used a standard of "substantial compliance" to determine a petition's validity.

11:59 a.m

The Board of State Canvassers has deadlocked along party lines on whether to put the referendum challenge to the emergency manager law on the ballot. Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot. The ballot campaign can now go to the state Court of Appeals.

Politics
5:03 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

What's next for Public Act 4?

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

The petition that would place Public Act 4, that's the emergency manager law, on the November ballot came before the State Board of Canvassers.  Earlier this week it was confirmed the group Stand up for Democracy had more than enough signatures to put the PA 4 up for repeal on the ballot. But then this question of whether the correct font size was used for the ballot was brought up.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

“It’s not really a surprise on a matter like this that you would see a split decision,” Demas says.

Demas adds that supporters of the petition were very upset about the deadlock, and says “they could have avoided all this if they had just gotten their petition approved before they circulated it, and if there was really a font issue, they would have been told.”

This question will most likely head to the State Court of Appeals. Ken Sikkema believes it’s important the courts make a decision consistent with similar cases.

He says, “If they in fact decide to keep this off the ballot, yes they will be criticized that they made a political decision, but if they can rest their decision upon the fact that its consistent with prior decisions then I think they are in fairly decent shape, otherwise the confidence and trust that some people have in the court is going to soften.”

Flint
7:48 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Flint emergency manager imposes contract changes

Sean Marshall Flickr

Flint's state-appointed emergency financial manager has imposed concessions on two union contracts and pushed through a new city budget for the city.

The Flint Journal reports the changes were among a dozen orders issued Wednesday by Michael Brown.

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